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Human Rights Watch points to breaches of judicial independence in Ecuador

Date: Feb 10, 2014

Human Rights Watch, an independent organization “dedicated to defending and protecting human rights” which “give[s] voice to the oppressed and hold[s] oppressors accountable for their crimes,” published a letter that it wrote to Ecuador’s President of the Council of the Judiciary. The letter pointed to serious breaches of judicial independence, citing examples of Ecuador President Rafael Correa’s administration’s interference in that country’s judiciary and bias in the judicial appointment process. Chevron has long raised concerns in the Lago Agrio case about the integrity of Ecuador’s judiciary.

The letter pointed specifically to concerns about the integrity of the National Court of Justice, the same court that ratified the fraudulent Lago Agrio judgment against Chevron in December 2013. The National Court of Justice took that action despite overwhelming evidence of fraud, bribery and corruption in the case, once again violating the nation’s international obligations and the rule of law. The letter pointed to other misconduct that occurred at the same time as Chevron’s appeal of the 2011 verdict worked its way through the judicial process.

Human Rights Watch said that “corruption, inefficiency, and political influence have plagued Ecuador’s judiciary for years,” and that in 2011, “the administration of President Rafael Correa initiated an ambitious judicial reform process to address these chronic problems.”

Unfortunately, the organization wrote, this “reform” process has led to anything but actual reform. While the organization said the government took some positive steps, its formation of a temporary Transitional Council of the Judiciary and a five-member permanent Council of the Judiciary, both charged with appointing judges, raised new concerns about executive interference in the judiciary:

“The Council of the Judiciary has also overhauled the composition of the judiciary by appointing and removing hundreds of judges, including all magistrates of the National Court of Justice, through highly questionable mechanisms that we believe severely undermine judicial independence in the country.”

The letter continued:

“In 2012, the Transitional Council of the Judiciary appointed all 21 members of Ecuador’s highest court, the National Court of Justice, as well as all its substitute judges, through mechanisms that lack the objectivity and transparency provided for in international standards on judicial independence.”

Similar to President Correa’s statements and actions in support of the Lago Agrio plaintiffs, the letter said that, “when President Correa launched his justice reform initiative, he made public statements that further undermined the credibility of the judiciary as an independent branch of government.”

The letter said that additionally, “the overhaul of the judiciary was carried out by former government officials who, with one exception, served under President Correa,” and that “these appointments, together with Correa’s statements, run counter the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, which state that, “[a] judge shall not only be free from inappropriate connections with, and influence by, the executive and legislative branches of government, but must also appear to a reasonable observer to be free there from.”

Human Rights Watch urges Ecuador to “adopt measures to ensure that Ecuador complies with international standards on judicial independence.” Chevron will continue to seek redress under international law for the ongoing denial of justice in Ecuador.